With Krampus haunting theaters this holiday season, I’m today concerned with how quickly “ho ho ho” becomes “ho ho horror.” There’s Black Christmas and Silent Night, Deadly Night and Rare Exports and Christmas Evil. The list goes on and on. If you want a good one you’ve probably never heard of, try the Dutch Sint (2010). St. Nicholas is a murderous bishop that kidnaps and murders children whenever there’s a full moon on December 5th. As far as rampaging St. Nicholas movies from the Netherlands go, I’ve got to believe it’s the pinnacle of the genre.
I’m not really here to talk about Christmas-themed horror movies because quite honestly most of them are pretty shit. That was just a sidetrack to start a bl-g post. (Can you have a sidetrack before you even have a track? Discuss.) I thought I’d try something new to spice things up before jumping into the post proper.
There’s always Gizmo in a Santa hat. Because that’s all kinds of warm and fuzzy.
The relevant ho ho horror is the “Christmas blues.” I’ll call them the “Christmas blues” because Dean Martin sang one of my favorite Christmas songs about them, but for many people it’s far more serious than a case of the “blues.” Myself included. “Christmas blues” is the palatable version. Soul sucking self-loathing laced with fear, helplessness and anxiety doesn’t go over well with egg nog at office holiday parties. Maybe “Creeping Holiday Terror” is a more acceptable middle ground.
In case you haven’t been a loyal reader since I started this bl-g four years ago (and I have the site analytics so I know such a reader doesn’t exist), I’ll get you up to speed rather quickly. I came down with a touch of that clinical depression that’s going around in December of 2010 (linkified in case you’re unfamiliar with the traditional symptoms). I just wasn’t equipped with the tools to recognize or combat these feelings so I allowed it all to snowball. It was like experiencing all past disappointment and future fears at once. Even if you’ve experienced this brand of sadness it’s very hard to explain. I felt my most violent unease in fact when I tried to detail my feelings to my wife. I had no words, only metaphors about black pits and face grabbers. I assumed that what I was feeling would just pass. It didn’t.
I’d lost interest in the things I’d loved. I couldn’t watch my favorite movies or my favorite music. It had all become steeped with ghosts, with haunting nostalgia that reminded me of times and places and people now gone. Most vividly I remember not being able to write. I was in the middle of a novel at the time. I’d written more than 80,000 words. I just stopped. In fact I’ve never actually gone back to that work. That manuscript remains too closely associated… plus, it really wasn’t very good. (Or is that just the doubt and self-loathing?)
There were clues beforehand. I felt intermittent and unexpected anxiety. For example, I had to leave Inception a few minutes before the end because I experienced my first panic attack. I couldn’t breathe. My chest hurt. I waited outside the theater until it subsided. I thought I was having a heart attack. When my wife and father-in-law came out of the theater, I lied. I said I’d just gone to the bathroom and since it was almost over I watched from the hallway into the theater. I became dependent on video games to refocus my attention away from this shapeless dread and fear I couldn’t understand. Reading, watching movies, focusing on music all left too much time for my mind to wander into dark corners. But there’s a danger that goes along with constant anesthesia. Feelings like these don’t generally disappear, and I wasn’t addressing the root of the problem, merely avoiding the symptoms.
I found myself on the verge of tears throughout Christmas. Only focusing on my daughter’s immediate joy helped dam the waterworks. I could lose myself in her unbridled enthusiasm. Watching her comprehend Christmas for the first time. Not yet 2, she discovered how much fun it was just to rip wrapping paper. The gifts inside merely a bonus. These little moments saw me through. Until they didn’t.
Two days after Christmas I came home from seeing Black Swan. (It’s funny how I can put a timestamp on these moments because of my connection to film.) My wife had seen it the night before — the home-and-home for young movie-watching parents. (One goes to see a movie one night, the other goes to see the movie the next.) We discussed the movie and drank wine at the kitchen table. After some time, I couldn’t hold it back anymore. Tears started flowing. I stopped talking about the movie. My wife said nothing. “I need help,” I said. “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. But I need help.” Later she told me those words took her breath away. She knew something had been wrong, but only then had she truly understood.
I started going to see a therapist and yada yada yada 18 months later, my therapist released me again into the wild. I’m not here to detail my path back to relative mental health. I’ve talked about it intermittently in 30Hz bl-g therapy posts. I merely want people to recognize that sometimes we’re just not okay. That sometimes we all just need a little help. The holidays in particular are a time of nostalgia and regret as another year winds down. I can’t speak for everyone, but I take stock of the past year and find my efforts wanting, my failures and disappointments numerous. Another year wasted on idle tasks, another year I didn’t do A, B or C. How could 365 days have passed already? How could I be 37? My once wee daughters growing up and becoming young girls and soon they’ll be gone… or worse… teenagers. But those are the easy “blues” — the “blues” we can measure and put into context. There’s so much more that wells up during the holidays that we just can’t really explain.
Help comes in all different forms. It’s not just professional help. Help is family. Help is acknowledge and addressing these feelings before they become all consuming. Help is being present in the moment and being grateful for everything that’s around us and not focusing on the ghosts of Christmas past and future. Charles Dickens was a pretty darn smart guy. I never realized it until I felt the arrival of my own haunting Christmas spirits.
In A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens wasn’t just talking about the crotchety old skinflint named Ebenezer Scrooge; he was talking about all of us. We may not all be penny-pinching bastards, but we suffer Scrooge’s fear, anxiety and latent desire to be better versions of ourselves. Scrooge self-anesthetized by collecting and hoarding money. We all have our individual ways.
The last line from A Christmas Carol:
“He had no further intercourse with Spirits, but lived upon the Total Abstinence Principle, ever afterwards; and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well, if any man alive possessed the knowledge. May that be truly said of us, and all of us! And so, as Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”
That one line should speak to all of us, those that have experienced depression firsthand, those that have known depressed friends and family. “…and it was always said of him, that he knew how to keep Christmas well…” As the holiday season takes off in earnest, I hope you enjoy family and friends and that if you’re someone who feels the ho ho horrors of Christmas, that you pay attention to what your mind and body tells you. Don’t spend too time lamenting past or fearing the future. Remind yourself to look to the present and to the emotions we’re actually experiencing in real time. Enjoy the people that are your here and now. Most importantly, keep those other spirits locked safely in the shackled armoire of your long-deceased business partner… or nearest approximate containment unit. Keep Christmas well.
But whatever you do, don’t ask about the Christmas Twinkie.
In parting, have a wonderful holiday. Don’t be afraid to sample some fruit cake (some are really quite good). Have some hot chocolate (with lots of marshmallows). Be a kid again. Unwrap a present and absolutely shred the wrapping paper. Take a midnight walk to look at the neighborhood Christmas lights. Put on a favorite Christmas record (maybe the Star Wars Christmas record?) and sit by the tree. Do nothing else but watch the lights. Make a gingerbread house and eat the gumdrops because why the fuck not? Roast chestnuts over an open fire/gas flame/backyard bonfire pit. Indulge your holiday traditions, but don’t forget to make new memories right now. It’s the new memories that keep us away from the Creeping Terrors of Christmas.